The Two Ingeborgs

I had just put down the phone from calling Pontus Ross’s granddaughter “AJ” when my mail client dinged.  We had been talking about her Norwegian grandmother Ingeborg Lokke Ross, who was ninety-one when she died at Montrose in 1940.  Ingeborg probably arrived on America’s shores in the late 1860’s, part of a tide of Scandinavian immigrants fleeing crop failures and imminent starvation.  She was still a teenager when her future husband Pontus Ross (A.k.a. Pretrus Eliasson) was a fledgling twenty-five-year-old farmer who lost his team of horses to an army of Cheyenne Dog Soldiers in a Republic County field in 1869.  

Pontus & Ingeborg

When we face a steep increase in coffee prices these days, there are always a few brave souls ready to sample one of those toasted grain substitutes once or twice, before trudging back to the grocery store and paying whatever the coffee merchants demand.  With flour in short supply in 1860’s Norway, Ingeborg probably nibbled a kind of bread that was made with tree bark mixed with straw, before boarding a ship that would take her to what had to be a better life.  Tree bark and straw is one recipe Caroline Barnes Lovewell never thought to include in the cookbook meant to be read while fiddling with her husband’s 19th-century invention, the slow-cooker.

The incoming mail turned out to be a gift from a completely unexpected source.  Recently I’ve been writing about operatic soprano Marguerite Lovewell, the daughter of Caroline Barnes Lovewell and Prof. Joseph Taplin Lovewell of Topeka, Kansas.  Hoping for a picture of Marguerite onstage, I tried to leave a message with the granddaughter of Marguerite’s former accompanist, Lois Townsley Brown, but heard instead from the granddaughter of Marguerite herself, Kathy Knight.  Kathy shared a treasure vault full of family pictures and stories about Joseph Taplin Lovewell’s daughters and their lives back East.

Marguerite put aside her dreams of singing in the opera palaces of Europe to marry coffee importer Harry Grigg (See - this all really does tie together).  Her sister Carolyn was said to have broken off an engagement to care for their father during his final days.  She gave piano lessons for a time and then moved in with the Griggs to do her part to spoil their children Harry Jr. and Barbara.  Carolyn's cookies were legendary, according to Kathy.  After the Great Depression took care of much of the Grigg family's coffee fortune, both sisters began offering piano lessons and later started a catering business to help make ends meet.

Inge Scalloped With Curl 2

Kathy sent several pictures of the family, which we’ll get to in a bit.  First, however, here’s a picture which may look like a still from “Mad Men,” but is really a snapshot of Kathy's mom, Inge (Short for Ingeborg), the lovely German girl Harry Jr. brought home to meet his mother.  The chance to invite two immigrant girls named Ingeborg, born almost a century apart, to share a page on this site was too tempting to resist.  

The first thing everyone will notice, aside from the fact that if Inge wasn’t a model, it wasn’t because no one asked her, is that she’s standing in the kitchen everyone seemed to have back then - white appliances, glossy cabinets with a fresh, thick coat of white enamel, and a set of stainless steel pans with copper bottoms hanging on the wall.  The lady of the house is in her domain, sporting classic 50’s chic, a black dress, an apron and pearls.  Inge pulls it off with a touch of class that June Cleaver would have envied.  

The two pictures probably tell us something about how we saw ourselves at two stages of our history.  There’s the prosperous, hard-working Swedish farmer and his well-dressed wife, both looking supremely uncomfortable in their make-believe parlor that’s really a set in a photographer’s studio.  Pontus obviously can’t wait to shed his unfamiliar three-piece suit and get back into the field.  His wife Ingeborg Lokke Ross is looking forward to be able to inhale again sometime soon.  

Ingeborg Grigg looks much more at home in her own kitchen, which looks just like the ones that were visible on television and in a Disneyland diorama.  Now that she’s fixed dinner for the kids, she’s ready to greet the babysitter, whisk off that apron and spend the night on the town dancing with her husband.  Probably not what happened, but it’s the illusion the picture wants to create.  Her husband probably took the photograph.  Harry Kingsley Grigg, Jr., was in military intelligence in the Korean War era, and would have brought the camera home from Germany, along with Ingeborg.  

I’ll bet the camera was a Leica.  It’s what I would have bought.


The portrait of Pontus and Ingeborg Ross was added to by Ryan Ross   

© Dale Switzer 2023